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January 16, 2008

Disney’s First Black Princess Takes Shape

Posted in: Film,Race

Boy does this early shot from The Princess and the Frog make me smile. We’ve known for a while that Disney was at work on an animated film with their first black princess, but it’s another thing to see her in the flesh. And it’s nice to see them revive their fine tradition of hand animation (just four years ago they said they were permanently abandoning the technique) for this kind of first.

Of course, the road here has not been without a certain amount of controversy (Disney has been pretty responsive). And lots of questions still remain. Will voodoo be presented in a realistic or stereotypical light? Will the characters find the right balance between overly PC sterility and obnoxious caricature? How will it deal with the racial issues of the time (1920s)? This is a tough one both because it hasn’t been done before and because there are so many eyes on it.

Still, you have to applaud the Mouse House for taking the risk. After all, when you’re designing new characters, the easy road is to stick with what works culturally. We know white characters work. And it sure seems like Disney hasn’t exactly been comfortable with black characters. (I mean how else could you explain Lion King spending an entire film in Africa without ever encountering a person?) Under Disney’s new stewardship (read Pixar), that’s changing. Who better than the folks who gave us the Incredibles’ fabulous Frozone?

Considering Princess and the Frog is set in New Orleans, I hope Disney does it right. Those folks deserve it. I mentioned that Disney is returning to its old animation technique for this film. One could read that as the studio saying: “we wish we had given you a black princess sooner.” If that’s their frame of mind, I imagine things will turn out all right.

Find more Princess and the Frog at Wikipedia and FirstShowing.

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